Both of our eyes were fixed on the measuring bowl. Eak, Doh, Teen she counted out loud making sure there was no room for error either in her count or the way the Chire was packed in the grapefruit sized round silver bowl. There were no pre packed options or any balance to weigh the amount. Each bowl was supposed to be the equivalent of a Powa ( 250 gms approx ). After the desired amount was measured it was customary to ask for Fau ( extra ) to make up for any unforseen error that could’ve escaped even the watchful of eyes. After all the silver bowl with a couple dents on its side had seen better days. Mahatoin sat hunched on the floor, the heavy silver armlets, necklace and earring on her ebony colour skin was as if out of a Sepia print. The transaction done, it was time to exchange some pleasantaries. She adjusted the end of her sari and checked on the suckling baby attached to her body. We discuss about how the crops turned out or what the city life was like.
The Chire was wrapped in a big piece of cloth with a secure knot. This was then seated in a large wicker basket. Another long piece of fabric was folded on itself to act as a padding. Mahatoin seated the padding on her head. Her fingers then ran on the knot behind her neck, making sure the cloth holding the baby was secure. Satisfied with the ” systems check” so far, she now bends to lift the big basket on her head. Her left leg makes a small move as she balances herself. The baby with a full tummy now fast asleep. Mahatoin flashes a big smile and bids farewell to me as she gets ready to continue with her hawking. Life was that simple.
I had moved out of home by then to the university, and was back only for holidays. Ma would try to fit in as many delicacies as she possibly could within that limited time. Chirer Polau used to be our snack for the afternoon. There could be nothing fresher than the beaten rice Mahatoin brought to our door. Made from the latest harvest with no additives or modifications, genetic or otherwise. Beaten rice being lighter than regular rice was thought to be the right choice for an afternoon snack. This Polau was cooked with a variety of spices, nuts, a few choice veggies tipping the final taste to the sweet side.
Beaten rice Two cups
Cauliflower Half cup cut in small florets
Potato Half cup cut in small cubes
Cashew nuts One Tbsp
Raisins One Tbsp
Bay leaf Couple
Cumin seeds Half tsp
Dried red chilli One
Cinnamon stick Two inches long broken in pieces
Ginger One inch long grated
Salt To taste
Sugar Two tsps
Frozen peas Half cup
Saffron Few strands
Canola oil One Tbsp
Ghee Two Tbsps
Milk One tsp
Gently wash the beaten rice only once and spread it out on kitchen towel to dry.
Take the milk in a small bowl and warm it in the microwave, soak the saffron strands in it and keep it aside.
Heat about a tsp of Canola oil in a non stick pan and throw in the cumin seeds and red chilli in it. As soon as the cumin seeds get a bit of colour throw in the cut potato pieces a pinch of salt and cook covered. Put the gas off as soon as the potatoes are done and has some colour. Collect them in a bowl.
Heat another tsp of oil in the same pan and this time fry the cauliflower pieces covered with a pinch of salt until done. Collect them in a bowl.
Now add the ghee in the pan and let it heat up. Throw in the bay leaf first, cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom, grated ginger, cashew nuts and raisins. Fry for a few minutes till the raisins plump up, add the beaten rice, salt and sugar. Be very gentle in stirring only to assemble things together. Add the frozen peas last. Pour the saffron soaked milk over the Polau.
The final taste tends to be a bit sweet. Enjoy while it is still hot.
Chire is Beaten rice available in Indian grocery stores. It is also known as Poha.